Uh Oh – Did I Snuff Out My Children’s “Beginner Minds”? (A Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop Prompt)

Mama's

There were several great prompts on Mama Kat’s this week. The one I got is certainly familiar territory to our family:

It has been said that kids these days are pushed into too many extra-curricular activities and are not given the freedom to play and be bored and to use their imaginations. Is this true?

I used to (non humbly) marvel at myself as I laid out my children’s things each night for the upcoming day. At our busiest, Tenley would need a gymnastics leo and the rest of her gym stuff and dance paraphernalia (leo, tights, bobby pins, hair nets, ballet shoes, tap shoes, jazz shoes). There was a time when I would drop her off at gym, sit through her workout, pull her out of gym a few minutes early, and she would change leos (this took the talent of an … acrobat!) in the car between gym and dance. I actually think at one point, I was leaving my son at the gym to do his gymnastics class while I was transporting Tenley to dance.
 
Food in these situations? In the car if at all. I have many memories of walking my son through his spelling words while sitting in the gym seats or at dance – I bought pre-sharpened pencils so that we would always have them in the glove compartment. If we could have fit a tiny sink and kitchen in there I probably would have tried!

I think the interchange between parents and children in which kids say “moooooom, I’m booored!” is a lose-lose proposition – how many times have you ever heard a kid say, “right, Mom, it didn’t occur to me that reading a book or playing a board game or helping you fold clothes or getting a head start on my research paper could dispel my boredom!” Having grown up as an only child, I may see this question from an entirely different perspective – I was telling my son as we were discussing this prompt about all of my imaginary friends I had growing up, and how my parents probably thought I was nuts when they heard all of the one-sided conversations! He said he has had imaginary friends (but he must keep the dialogue in his head).

This prompt, rephrased, asks “are we keeping our kids so darned busy that their brains have no down time, no imperative to ‘dig deep’ into the crevices — into the spaces where dreams and whimsies germinate, and where our unconscious selves deal with the ‘bad things’ in our lives?”

In his blog “Where Do Ideas Come From?” Seth Godin lists several points that apply to overscheduled kids and burnt out executives alike, such as:

Ideas don’t come from watching television
Ideas come from nature
Ideas come … when we’re not trying
Ideas fear experts, but adore beginner’s mind (how often do we as parents rush to “fill in the blanks” for our children, negating the power of “beginner’s mind”?)

and one of my favorites:

Ideas often come from reading a book (yeah!!)

For the full text of Seth Godin’s “ideas” blog, click here.

When I look back on those hectic years of activity on top of activity, I think the thing I would be more sensitive to (in retrospect) is gauging the children’s motivation to be involved in the activity. I tend to want to be busy (duh) but each child is different. Some of them thrive on having several balls up in the air while others only feel pressure. As the children have gotten older, I have seen Tenley “self select” the ways in which her focus honed in on what she most wanted to do (dance). With Wayne, my son, I quietly backed off from registering him for stuff that he had casually mentioned, and learned to wait until he had initiated the idea repeatedly (i.e., Pop Warner Football).

Was there, mixed in with all that, enough room for their “beginner minds” to flourish? These two are rarely found with a nose in a book (much to my chagrin), but I hope that family Sundays spent with cousins by the pool, weekends at gym and dance meets where there is plenty of “messing around time” between the “official” activities, and my conviction that they’ll still turn out to be pretty cool adults even if their “childhood” resumes weren’t packed with non stop activity, will result in two minds that are fertile ground for playful ideas.

Photo Credit: Filomena Scalise

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Broken (A Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)

When I put the numbers 1 through 5 into the random number generator this week to help me choose a writing prompt for Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop, I got 5:  Describe a moment when you saw someone hit their breaking point.

***
It was me. I saw myself hit my own breaking point.

In 2008, our organization switched Third Party Administrators (TPA). A TPA (in our case) handles the computer system for insurance enrollees, along with eligibility, payment processing, correspondence, customer service (pretty much everything). The contract had gone to the lowest bidder, who also had scored the most poorly on the assessment tools. As a staff member, it was not my place to question why it worked out that way, but to make it work. As the staff member overseeing activities related to customer service, I was centered firmly in the eye of the storm as the transition from the old TPA to the new one unfolded, with problems galore. (All transitions have problems, but these were worse than “average” and I was the one getting much of the feedback from unhappy enrollees and legislative offices).

 

Several months into the transition, a typical day would find me with 20+ emails open, each one interrupted by the most pressing crisis. My seven staff members were valiantly trying to figure out a convoluted, sporadically performing system, while fending off hostility from our partner agencies who weren’t getting what they wanted (and needed), meaning they too were awash in dissatisfied enrollees and important stakeholders who were complaining that their constituents were complaining.

 

The day I broke, I had the 20+ emails open; our external consultant (who was there to deal with some of the technical glitches but also to make recommendations related to how our staff should function) was sitting with me discussing a project; my phone was ringing; I am sure I had some child-related (as in my children) issue on my mind. My staff member who asked frequent questions came to the door, asked me something about refunds, a situation that the TPA was supposed to have handled but had not, and I don’t recall what I said (I think it may have been something along the lines of “if they would just do their **?! job), but I know that the next thing I knew I was in tears, the consultant was beating a hasty exit back to her office to give me some space, and I had reached this point:

 

I realized deep inside that it was never going to be enough to be passionate about the cause of the agency I work for. As much as I love management and leadership theory, I had not managed to bridge the gap between what I knew and how I applied it.

 

The tears I cried that day were a mixture of frustration, anger, sadness, grieving, resignation, and probably a few other things. As Seth Godin wrote in his post, “Organizing for Joy,” there are companies out there that “give their people the … expectation…that they will create, connect and surprise.” When an organization lowers its expectations, the “chances of amazing,” says Seth Godin, “are really quite low.”

 

The day I broke was the day I knew we had given up on amazing anyone, especially ourselves.

Mama's Losin' It

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Faster, With More Energy

I love being an extra on film sets.  When I try to pin down exactly why I love being an extra, I find that the reasons refuse to define themselves in a linear list.  I enjoy having a “bird’s eye” view of the production process, the great people I meet, and the sense of common purpose shared by cast and crew.  Because my full-time job is filled with tasks that will not show any type of defined outcome for years (if ever), it is nice knowing that putting in hours on set now will result in something to watch at an appointed time.  Here is me in a “jazz club” scene for Waking Eloise, an MFA thesis film I know I’ll get to see in August.  Hooray, a defined outcome!  (And note the look on my face because it applies later on in this blog.)

I have been auditioning at the FSU Film School twice a year for about five years now.  Until today, I chose one of the “sides” provided by the film school for each audition.  With these sides, one of the FSU Film students reads a part and I read the other while being filmed.  After the first reading, one of the students gives direction about how to read the part differently, and I read it again.  This time I did a monologue that I had chosen; doing so gave me the opportunity to memorize the part in advance.  I have found that trying to read material I am not that familiar with while also trying to emote and make eye contact with the other “actor”/the camera is disconcerting.

As much as I love being an extra, I discovered when I had an opportunity to have a speaking part in an FSU Film (Water Wings), that I love that too, and that the experience rocked my “I -want-to-express-myself-in-addition-to-being-a-mom-of-two-kids-with-a-full-time-job” mindset out of dormancy. (Read about it here.) When I prepared for Water Wings, my role was a monologue with several accusatory questions in a row:  “Why did you do this? Why did you need to hurt me? What was so wrong? What couldn’t you take?, etc.” When I practiced this at home, I spoke them as I read them, with pauses in between each question. As it turns out, the Director wanted more of a rapid fire delivery. Check.

It was in giving me feedback about today’s first monologue delivery that Aaron Nix summarized in four words an improvement I need to make in my acting (foreshadowed by Shane Spiegel’s direction in Water Wings) that I also want to make in my running (and in my life).

Faster, with more energy.
As of noon today when the audition occurred, I had not decided what the subject of tonight’s blog was going to be.  I still want to write about the “scientific so,” but that requires more research (pun intended) as does the reason that several convenience stores I frequent feature men’s undershirts and clean “tshirts” near the checkout (apparently sales are brisk, even at a significant markup).  But Aaron’s four words crystallized a great blog topic, so here goes.
Last night, in preparation for today’s audition, I decided to record myself delivering my monologue.  Someday, when my acting improves and if I accumulate additional credits, I’ll get a good laugh out of this.  There’s only so much you can do with your point and shoot camera when you are holding it at arms’ length and recording yourself, but I saw enough to decided that a) my glasses create a barrier that doesn’t help me engage and b) my delivery was so low-key that I wouldn’t want to watch me! 
With Aaron’s feedback about my second delivery today, the direction I received in Water Wings, and my own observation from my self-recording last night, I am starting to detect a theme!!  Furthermore, what’s with that de-energized look on my face in the shot from “Waking Eloise”?
It’s exactly what I want out of my running:  Faster, with more energy.
For running, getting to that sub 30 5K is obviously going to require “faster,” but the “more energy” part is something I can tackle.  I think sometimes I apply restraint to my running on the premise that I need to conserve energy when there’s more need to push myself, and to apply more energy to the things in my life that can improve my running, like better eating habits and more challenging cross training.
As for acting, I love it therefore it’s time to figure out how to get to “faster, with  more energy.”  As Seth Godin says in his blog about the dangers of the category of “neither”, “If you spend your days avoiding failure by doing not much worth criticizing, you’ll never have a shot at success.”
As the week begins, I encourage you to look for that territory beyond neither.  As Godin says, opening yourself up to taking the risk of being criticized may lead you to “encountering the very thing you’re after.”
I’ll “run” into you next week, readers.  I’ll be the fast, energetic one!
Some of the wonderful friends I have made on set — this one is “Banoffee Pie,” and FSU Media Production Narrative Project film!

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Answering the Call

Ring ring!  Ring ring!  Ring ring!

Tony Sturges was in the middle of reading a passage from Exodus 3:1-15 this morning at church. Moses had just encountered the flaming bush. Tony had just read, “When the Lord saw that he [Moses] had turned aside to see,” when the cell phone started ringing. It wasn’t a “ding a ling” kind of ring, more of an insistent “tech-y” sounding beep. Some readers would have ignored the ringing and forged ahead, trying to keep the parishioners focused. Not Tony. He stopped reading, and waited for the ringing to stop. My guess is that this choice was out of reverence for the word of God, not to embarrass the phone’s owner. (Or maybe it was a reflex from years of teaching college and dealing with students’ cell phones going off in the middle of lectures.) Whatever his reasoning was, it turned out to be divinely inspired, since the continuation of the sentence he was reading was, “God called to him out of the bush.” It took Tony (and the rest of us) a while to stop laughing and to regain some semblance of Sunday morning attentiveness.

There are two other thoughts related to “God’s call” that I want to share in today’s blog.  The first has to do with yesterday’s Thomasville Road Baptist Church 5K/10K, a race held every year to benefit the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes.  Since my blog is still (occasionally!) about running and my quest to run a 5K in less than 30 minutes, here’s a 2009 vs 2010 comparison:

2009 (5K) 41:28 (13.27 min. mile)  –  2010 (10K) 1:17:10 (12.27 min. mile)
The other thing I want to point out about the Thomasville Road Baptist Church has nothing to do with distances, splits, or routing (how is it possible that Tallahassee goes only uphill anyway??).  It has to do with our numbers, which are handed to us in this condition: 
Look closely at my number.  What do you see in each of the four corners?  While we all need a safety pin on each corner of our race number, only at the Thomasville Road Baptist Church race do the numbers come PRE-PINNED!!  When I got my pre-pinned number last year, I thought the pre-pinning was quaint.  This year I realized that the TRBC volunteers consistently do this.  It’s an example of “customer service” that a lot of for-profit businesses could do well to take note of.  Yes, we can pin our own numbers on, but this one tiny touch of “let us make it a great day for you” is representative of an organization that wants to ensure everyone has a first-class experience.  According to Grea Bevis, the Race Director, this is a responsibility of the packet pick-up committee.  When a business (or church group) takes time to attend to little details like this, we customers notice and remember.  Nice job, TRBC.  I know you do this because you feel it is “part of your call” to serve God and community.  Next year, I’ll “pin all my hopes” on racing with you again. 
While I am on the subject of things we feel “called” to do in life, especially when we feel God has a hand in it, for the second week in a row I am citing Seth Godin’s thought-provoking blog.  Today, he talked about how so many huge corporate behemoths have gotten things turned around, putting the “factory, the infrastructure, the systems, the patents, the process, the manual” ahead of the “irreplaceable people, the linchpins, the ones that make a difference.”  It is those irreplaceable, linchpin people who disperse a “call” throughout an organization, living out that organizational mission in every professional choice they make.
If you have personally lost sight of your “call,” I encourage you to use this week to look for an opportunity find joy in going the extra mile, putting the “pins in the numbers” ahead of time, and helping a coworker or friend do the same.
I’ll “run” into you next week, readers!

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Viva LaVida

Once a year, my mother in law treats me, Tenley, and herself to one of the Broadway series touring shows at our local Civic Center.  No matter when the show occurs, it is my birthday present for that year.  This is a cherished tradition, since we both love Broadway and enjoy spending time together.  This year, we were excited to see “A Chorus Line.”  I had finally gotten around to watching the movie, and my nieces’ dance recital last summer was structured around the theme of “A Chorus Line” so it was a perfect choice for the year. 
When we arrived at the Civic Center, I was standing there trying to figure out where to go.  Our tickets said “Section C”, but Section C appeared to be blocked off so I was starting to walk in the complete opposite direction (which would have had me, Barb, and Tenley circumnavigating the entire Civic Center), when one of the ushers noticed that lost look on my face and offered to help.  She noted that these were the floor seats, so we had to go past the blocked off area to get downstairs via elevator.  Before escorting us downstairs, though, she overheard our discussion about getting a souvenir program and pleasantly reassured us that she would be ready whenever we were.  Once we had made that purchase, and came back, she informed us that there was no intermission, so if we wanted drinks or anything from the concession area, we needed to go ahead and do it.  More delay for her while we got ourselves organized.  When I asked about the bathrooms downstairs, she reassured me there would be a restroom stop downstairs. 
While Tenley and I were using the ladies’ room, Barb and our usher were talking.  Barb learned that the usher had been working at the Civic Center for twelve years.  As she led us through the innards of the Civic Center (through which you have to travel to get to the floor seats), she chatted with us, smiling the whole time.  When it came time to hand us off to our next usher, I was kind of sad to travel out of the orbit of someone so warm, friendly, and engaged in her job.  That’s when I asked her name, since I was already having an inkling of my blog topic for tonight.  Her name, she said (with a smile, of course) was LaVida. 

When I got home that night, I noted in my Facebook status how much I had enjoyed the show, but also how much I had enjoyed getting such fantastic customer service.  A friend of mine who is a certified registered nurse anesthetist said to me once, “I work to support my expensive hobbies.”  The more life experience I have, the less inclined I am to settle for the “either or” inherent in that sentence.  I recently read a reference to a book entitled, “9 to 5 Should Be Happy Hour.”  I also agreed with Seth Godin’s closing line of today’s blog, “The less a project or task or opportunity at work feels like the sort of thing you would do if this is just a job, the more you should do it.” 
I was at a get-together last night for people interested in the film industry.  A young man sitting across from me, who wants to get into film school, responded to the organizer’s question about his goals by saying, “I would be happy to sit in a room editing film all day.”  Something tells me he’s a pretty darned good editor.  I feel the same way about proofreading and editing the written word — it’s almost relaxing — and since I take joy in it, my product is (hopefully) a win-win for everyone.
I wish I had thought to get LaVida’s picture Tuesday night.  I thought about doing it as we were leaving, but she was pushing a wheelchair into the seating area for a disabled patron …….. with a smile on her face.  I didn’t want to interrupt her “happy hour.” 
I’ll “run” into you next week, readers!

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.